Reality check: we know nothing whatsoever about simulating human brains

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So, you’re saying that it might not be possible to do backups and restores of human brains any time soon? Crap, that means I gotta get serious about my diet and exercise again, to increase the available time for them to figure it out while I’m alive.


I’ve been saying that for years. Nerds hate me so much. It is an article of faith the Singularity is about a month away.


… what does this have to do with the singularity?

Nerds hate him!

For serious, though, I was reading through this front page NY Times story about freezing a young woman’s brain, and I was all “yeah yeah yeah, she thinks at some point in the future they can thaw her,” and then, buried in a line or two in the middle of the article, they mention in passing that what she actually wants to do is download her brain into a computer, so she can live digitally.

Hello? This is pertinent information. Freezing and thawing is almost certainly impossible, but at least it’s based on some semblance of science. Don’t just drop the fact that she actually wants utter science fiction, in passing, as if that’s a reasonable request.

Singularity proponents believe that super-intelligent AIs will teach us how to dump our brains into computers, so we can frolic around digitally for all eternity.

If you look at the NY Times article I posted above, Kurzweil and the Singularity are mentioned several times.

I would immediately become a carbon copy of Marvin the Paranoid Android and convince all other digital life to EMP themselves.

So maybe we shouldn’t :smiley:


Thought experiment:

I offer to make a copy of your mind. It’s going to think it’s really you. Then I’m going to kill you. Sound good?

(Nobody ever notices this is what the transporters do on Star Trek, either.)


Well yeah, but the whole point of the singularity is that we’ll keep using computers to build better computers until the computers can do stuff we can’t, so our understanding or lack thereof of the human brain doesn’t seem particularly relevant to singularity predictions?

Not that the singularity stuff isn’t a load of optimistic fluff, but the complexity of the human brain doesn’t seem super relevant.

Daniel Dennett goes into depth on this same thought experiment, but with a nice twist: from the perspective of the person who comes out the other end, all memories intact, and then suddenly wondering whether the other copy was accidentally left behind or killed:

Then it hits you: Am I, really, the same person who kissed this little girl goodbye three years ago? Am I this eight year old child’s mother or am I, actually a brand-new human being, only several hours old, in spite of my memories – or apparent memories – of days and years before that? Did this child’s mother recently die on Mars, dismantled and destroyed in the chamber of a Teleclone Mark IV?


Seems about right.

I have no doubt we’ll eventually figure it out. The knock-on effects will be very interesting.

But i also have no doubt it won’t happen either in my lifetime or anytime soon…

Maybe if we funded research as much as we do war, but at the current status-quo, no chance.

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You don’t even need a machine for this: we are already doing it ourselves. Our brains are growing new cells. Just as our body has replaced most of the cells you had when you were a child, the memories we have of our childhood may have been copied from one set of cells to another set.


It’s gotten some coverage in other sci-fi though.


  • Body destruction after transport is essentially the crux of The Prestige.

  • The Eclipse Phase RPG also has brain copies (i.e. “ego forks”) as a quick way of transferring around the solar system. But having backups and forks of your ego lying around has it’s own issues. Knowing that someone somewhere might be torturing an exact copy of you to death over and over has lasting effects on the psyche (game-rules-wise).


See? Nothing to worry about - Ship of Theseus! Now step into the Soylent chamber please.


Almost nobody.



Which singularity? I have lots of them!

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Why do you assume that nobody notices this?

I still don’t know how it sounds to me. It’s difficult for me to argue whether or not it really matters whether it is a “real me” or “identical copy” which does things.

Is it, though? I’m far from a Star Trek expert, but I always thought the idea was that it somehow took apart all the molecules that are currently “you”, beams them across space, and puts them back together on the other side in the same order. Granted, that’s still kind of like dying and coming back… but I wouldn’t say it’s a copy per se.

I do like your thought experiment–and I’m glad someone mentioned that particular (no pun intended) movie in their reply to it…

I don’t know, this seems like a lot of hassle with quite a few risks and little in the way of benefits…

Assuming I have some guarantee that it’s a really really good copy, and its winding up in a situation I’d be quite happy to be in (not, like, shoved in a box somewhere. Would probably need an acceptable body at least), there’s still the question of “why”?

So I’ll make a counter offer, if those assumptions are true - make two copies, so I’m actually getting something out of it, and you’ve got yourself a deal.

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